We first discovered Claire’s work through her excellent first collection, The Shipwrecked House (recently nominated for this year’s Guardian First Book Award), a freewheeling, sea-soaked reel of a book that’s as sharp as a scrimshaw knife.
Claire is also the editor of Sabotage Reviews and co-editor/creator of Verse Kraken. So, naturally, we invited Claire to be the Poetry School’s first ever Digital-Poet-in-Residence. As part of her residency, Claire will be blogging for us, interacting with the CAMPUS community, and running a few online events and writing workshops.
We caught up with Claire to find out more.
Hello Claire. You’ve chosen the theme of ‘Creative Transformations’ for your digital residency at the Poetry School. What’s it all about?
Claire: I picked the title of ‘Creative Transformations’ for my residency because it seemed to best encompass the topics I’d like to cover as well as my current fascination for re-working material. You’ll find out more about what I mean in my open workshop on upcycling poetry.
You identify yourself as an ‘Anglo-Breton’ poet. Could you tell us more about your background?
Claire: If I had the choice I’d probably say Celtic as that’s the simplest and probably best summary of my background. My dad’s Breton and my mum half and half. Her own grandfather was a Breton mechanic who moved to England to make his fortune (Louis Coatalen, who is very famous among car enthusiasts) and married among many other ladies (that Maurice Chevalier accent was apparently very popular…) my great grand-mother, who is of Cornish/Welsh/English descent. My own granddad married a Scottish painter based in Somerset and they rediscovered and fell in love with Brittany. So yes, I think it’s simpler to just say that I am Celtic as that is a label that I feel a strong allegiance to.
“New technologies have been inspiring poetry for hundreds of years and this is one that has been, and should continue to be embraced by poets.”
How old were you when you wrote your first poem and do you remember what caused you to write it? And was there a defining moment when you ‘decided’ to become a poet?
Claire: I’ve always written, I was a huge bookworm as a child, so it’s hard to pinpoint when I first wrote a poem. When I was in France I was more of a writer of plays/screenplays/comics/short horror stories that would feature my friends. Moving to England as a teenager made me start writing poetry. Discovering a poetry message board around the age of 16 made me think about it more seriously, but I think it was only around the age of 20 that I admitted to being a poet to others….
There’s a lot of oceanic imagery and nautical folklore in your work. What is about these myths and legends that appeal to you?
Claire: The sea and its stories were a huge part of my childhood and adolescence (and my dad is a sailor) so that’s probably where the fascination comes from. I devoured local legends growing up and our school was always pushing our heritage at the forefront so these are just ingrained in my upbringing.
Your writing process often uses all sorts of different ‘tactics’ for producing poems, covering traditional methods (Wipe the Blade Clean on the Grass, Rusty Sea, Entrepreneurs) to the more experimental and deconstructive (Sing Bird, Journey, Telegrams, Melusine). Do you pick the form or does it declare itself in the writing?
Claire: It really depends, some of those poems started out with the intention of being a particular form and then changed, others began formless and were then corseted into an appropriate one. It’s more often the latter actually, certainly for Rusty Sea and Sing Bird where I can clearly remember getting to stage where their formlessness ceased to work. As soon as the right one imposed itself words flowed more easily. Others, such as Entrepreneurs, seemed happy with their form from the get go.
You’re bi-lingual and The Shipwrecked House contains a number of ‘translations’ and poems ‘after’ other poets, employing varying degrees of literalness (including a wonderful mistranslation of a Pablo Neruda poem). I was wondering if you could talk to us more about your different methods of translation and how translation has inspired your work.
Claire: I grew up an interpreter, which was inevitable in my kind of family. In kindergarten I was made to go up in front of the class and translate French words into English for them (my sisters went through this before me, our family inherited made-up words from that process for cases where our knowledge lacked). I remember a period of time when I couldn’t remember when one language stopped and another began. So yes, I do find translation fascinating, especially the literal kind where I forget a certain idiom doesn’t exist in the other language. I could talk on this subject for quite a while, academically and personally, so it’s hard to be concise here…
As well as being a poet, you run lots of other innovative projects, including Sabotage Reviews and Verse Kraken, as well as being first-class tweeter. You clearly embrace digital media, both as a creative tool and as means of making poetry more accessible. But you’re also old enough to have grown up without many of these technologies. In what ways do you think the Internet has fundamentally changed your writing and contemporary poetry in general?
Claire: Haha, I’m not that old, I owned my first laptop aged 15… As I mentioned earlier, my first experiences of writing poetry seriously was deeply linked with the Internet as I was part of one of its communities. So I connect it in my mind with a period of new openness to the outside world, and a desire to be more professional about my writing. Likewise, I think the Internet is an excellent thing for contemporary poetry, as it is for all niches, since it allows us to communicate with geographically disparate writers. New technologies have been inspiring poetry for hundreds of years and this is one that has been, and should continue to be embraced by poets.
What living poets could you recommend? Let’s be mean – pick 5.
Claire: Oh dear, that is extremely mean. Here are some of my favourites, with the understanding that I wish I could list more/will kick myself later for not adding more. You’ll notice they’re all rather close to my age group and women, which is representative of my taste as a whole I think, though there are plenty of exceptions I’d mention if it didn’t mean bending the rules *coughPascalePetitcough*.
- Melissa Lee-Houghton, Beautiful Girls
- Emily Hasler, Natural Histories – or anything more recent in magazines (cf. Carol Rumens poem of the week on the Guardian.
- Liz Berry, The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls – or her forthcoming collection.
- Vanessa Kisuule – first collection forthcoming, but do go and see her perform live or on YouTube
- Hannah Lowe, Chick
If you could give one piece of advice to a young poet, what would it be?
Claire: Don’t stop learning too soon. Which, to be honest, is advice I give myself all the time.